The Hi-Rez Expo kicked off yesterday at the Cobb Energy Performing Arts Center in Atlanta, Georgia, to a sold out venue full of excited fans. The four-day event, sponsored by Twitch Prime and Coca-Cola, is hosting two separate championship tournaments on PC and consoles for the company’s flagship title, Smite, in addition to debuting the Paladins Invitational. Yesterday’s keynote also had some exciting announcements for fans, including the reveal of Smite Rivals, a new mobile game being developed by Hi-Rez Studios based on its hit game.
Brian Grayson, project lead for Smite Rivals, describes the game as a “real-time one-on-one collectible card arena game where players battle against each other using a god a combination of spells, minions and structures.” Similar to Smite, Rivals features three lanes where players go head-to-head to battle for control by using collectible cards to spawn units, build structures and cast spells, creating a kind of tug-of-war, push and pull competition, where one side wins by overpowering a lane and destroys the opponent’s base. The game will be available for mobile devices and PC with cross-platform gameplay.
Grayson spoke to [a]listdaily from the Hi-Rez Expo about Smite Rivals, the company’s second mobile game following last year’s Jetpack Fighter, how it could grow the mobile eSports scene, and why community engagement is the key to success.
Will there be any cross-promotional campaigns between Smite and Rivals?
Absolutely. We have plans for a lot of different content that, if you play Rivals, you will get inside of Smite. The way it works is, if you load up Rivals, you’ll get some kind of achievement. When you finish that achievement, you’ll get rewards in Rivals and rewards in your Smite account as long as you’ve linked them. This works on all the platforms. If you’re an Xbox player and a PC player, you’ll get them in both places. The cross-promotion content can be anything from skins to avatars. We have all kinds of things planned, but we aren’t going to do all of them unless we hit a sign-up milestone our website.
How are you engaging with fans at the Hi-Rez Expo?
We have a demo on the show floor, and it has about half the cards that we’ll have at release for players to try. There’s also a mix of gods, structures, spells and minions. You can play with your friends or against complete strangers in one-on-one competition, which is broadcast on a TV. After they’re done playing, we give them a card with a code that unlocks the Smite Rivals Loki skin for Smite on PC, Xbox and PS4.
People love it, and they’re really excited about it. They like the cute chibi art style that we’ve done with a lot of the characters. A lot have no idea what they’re doing, but they’re still able to play, complete a match, and have fun. I think they’re having a good time, and I hope they come back to discover the game’s extra depth.
What do you have to say to players that want to see a specific god featured?
I would say tweet me and tell me who you want to have in the game. We’re always listening. One of the things that I love about being part of the Hi-Rez team is that we have a lot of freedom to interact with the community, ask what they want, and put in almost everything that they want. We can engage and say that we know that there are these three or four characters that people really want, so let’s put it to a poll. The winner of the poll is who we go out and make. We don’t have to lead the vision for our fans. Our fans know what they want and they just need to tell us.
How are you going to get the word out about the game?
A lot of our initial marketing to help people find out that Rivals exists will be through cross-promotion. There’s a rotation of images in the Smite launcher that tells you about upcoming events inside of Smite or the latest merchandise we made with our partner, Hitpoint. We’ll use those same tools to tell people that Smite Rivals exists. We’ll also leverage social media and our video content to reach out to our core fan base. Separate from that is an audience that we really want to hit: people who play mobile games. Not just Hi-Rez fans, but anyone who plays mobile games. We think we’ve built something that’s fun and connects people on mobile and PC, and we want to build on that.
How will you be reaching audiences that might not be familiar with Smite? Were there any lessons learned from launching Jetpack Fighter?
We learned a few things. One was that there are some social media platforms that are stronger for mobile than they are for PC. That’s something to think about when putting together a marketing campaign and trying to reach the players that you want. Although they’re on all these social networks, the likelihood of getting them to convert and play a mobile game is different from converting them to play a PC game, and varies according to each platform. We found that there are some places that we didn’t pay much attention to on PC were very good places for mobile games, and it was almost a frictionless process of getting them to click on the App Store and install. It’s a different experience on PC. But I think there’s still going to be a lot of experimentation and learning for us because this is just our second mobile game.
Do you think the PC version will lead to adoption for the mobile experience?
I think it will. It’s funny, because at the Expo, I heard a guy ask his friend if he wanted to play the game. He said no because he didn’t play mobile games. There’s a weird stigma that’s hard to cross for some people, where they feel that mobile gaming isn’t real gaming. But it is, and as soon as you play your first mobile game, you realize it. I think on Steam, once people see Rivals there, they might not realize that it’s a mobile game. They’ll check it out, think it’s awesome, and find out that they can download it for mobile. Then when they have to go somewhere, they’ll be able to take it with them. That’s the kind of magic I think you’re going to see with Nintendo Switch, and anything that lets you take a hardcore gaming experience on the go.
Both the PC and mobile gaming spaces are very crowded. How will Hi-Rez make its games stand out?
There are two key things. The first is finding the fun quickly, and the second is working with the community. Finding the fun quickly means that we iterate at an incredible pace in our games. A game can feel totally new one or two months later. We try out a lot of different things, and once we find something that’s fun, we share it with our fans and they give us input, and then we react. We have an awesome fan base that’s growing all the time, and they know what they like. We want them to have a hand in what we’re building.
What are your thoughts on mobile eSports and how it could grow this year?
I think there are some great leaders there now. On mobile, the games that are becoming eSports are very different depending on the country you’re in. For example, eSports games in China are primarily RPGs (role-playing games). There are also some popular shooting games as well as MOBAs. Here in the US, you’ve got some card games that are doing very well as eSports.
So, I think two things will help push it forward. One is that even as people played PC games competitively, it didn’t become eSports overnight. So, I think mobile gamers are at the phase where they just really like playing games on their phones, while some are becoming more hardcore and want to play on a stage in front of people. That audience was smaller a year ago and it’s naturally growing. We don’t have to do anything because it will grow organically, but we can support it by creating more opportunities for people to compete. Creating small grassroots tournaments, giving people venues, and even giving tools within the game to play against their friend and cultivate that competitive atmosphere. I think that will help the most.
Ultimately, what pushes things forward is that a studio has to get behind a game to help set up a structure with great prizing. It doesn’t have to be excessive. The studio needs just to help players figure out what structure works for mobile. It could be as easy as including Smite Rivals as part of Hi-Rez Expo next year. I think if we let people know in advance and set a path for them, they’ll go down it and it’ll be awesome. I’ve already seen mobile eSports tournaments with huge viewership.
What is the key to keeping players engaged in the long-term?
One word: content. You have to always create new things for players to collect, conquer or try. Content is the most important thing, because you might think that players will take three months to get through it, and they’ll go through the whole thing in a week. When you love something and you’re passionate about it, you go through it. Everyone consumes content at a different pace, but it’s super important to make sure that the people who are who are moving very fast continue to have something new to try. Players moving at a slower pace will be comfortable investing their time because they see that there’s a long road ahead with fresh things to experience.